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Election in BurundiAmid a global pandemic, Burundi is on the brink of its first democratic transfer of power in its 58 years of independence. The country’s Constitutional Court will announce the official winner of the May 20 election on June 4, but the Burundi election commission has already declared Evariste Ndayishimiye, the candidate of the governing party, the winner. The commission has declared that Ndayishimiye won 68.72% of the votes cast, while his main opponent, Agathon Rwasa, gathered 24.19%.

The historic May 20 vote for president engaged 87.7% of registered voters, who cast their ballots after the campaigns of seven presidential hopefuls. This high turnout is momentous considering the low road density in the landlocked country. Inaccessible roads make traveling to polling places difficult, with the poor state of infrastructure in the country making travel even more costly. Such costs may be difficult for Burundians to grapple with, given the country’s near total dependence on coffee subsistence farming, the production of which has declined in recent years.

Campaign Controversy

Leading up to the election in Burundi, the 2020 presidential campaigns were not without controversy. According to Human Rights Watch, the preceding year included more than 60 political killings and 200 arrests of perceived political opponents. Rwasa, a longtime leader of a Burundian rebel group and a candidate in the 2015 presidential race against the incumbent, called for profound change throughout the election. The spokesman for Rwasa’s party publicized the National Freedom Council’s boycott of the Burundi election commission’s announcement on the grounds of fraud and violence as the basis of Ndayishimiye’s win.

In addition to political controversy, the election in Burundi faced criticism for its call for in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Days after the election, Burundi only had 42 cases of COVID-19, reporting just one death and 20 recoveries among these. However, the number of cases in the country doubled between May 17 and May 21, indicating that the election could have played a role in this increase.

Throughout the pandemic, Burundi has avoided imposing stringent restrictions in favor of advising its citizens to practice handwashing and to avoid mass gatherings, with the exception of campaign rallies. These rallies were one of the main platforms for information dissemination about candidates, as less than 2% of the country’s population has electricity in their homes, causing many Burundians to attend. The government’s one heavy-handed rule was imposed on foreign election observers, who were to be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival in the country, a possible tactic to dissuade observers from attending the election in Burundi at all.

Violence Before the Vote

The election in 2020 comes on the heels of the tumultuous 2015 election in Burundi. President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third-term bid violated the Constitution of Burundi’s two-term limit, provoking riots that culminated in a thwarted coup attempt. This insurgency prompted a violent suppression of the Burundian people and Nkurunziza’s political opponents. In the five years since the election, increasing violence in Burundi has led to the deaths of at least 1,200 people and the emigration of tens of thousands. This turmoil forced financial supporters of the country to cut political and financial ties, further entrenching it as one of the poorest countries in the world.

Economic isolation has put extreme financial stress on the government of Burundi, a burden that the government has imposed on its citizenry in recent years. Beginning in 2017, the government began demanding “contributions,” which it employed in part to fund the 2020 election. This contribution system was officially ended in 2019, but independent groups like the Imbonerakure youth militia have since demanded tributes in its place, exploiting even the seven out of 10 Burundians who live below the poverty line.

These human rights and economic abuses ratcheted up the pressure and significance of the 2020 presidential election, yielding a huge voter turnout in support of reform.

A New Face

While the declared winner Ndayishimiye is the candidate of the ruling party that backed Nkurunziza in his violent and lengthy reign, many Burundians showed up to the polls in support of political change. The people are participating politically to end the violence that has gripped Burundi throughout its occupation by Belgium, which ended in 1962, and the ensuing battles between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. After the first democratic election in Burundi in 1993, the Hutu president was assassinated by a Tutsi-led group of political opponents and traitorous cabinet members.

Burundi has yet to maintain peace after a transfer of power. The country is looking to the results of this election to usher in a peaceful and democratic transition between presidents. Whether Ndayishimiye rules independently or under the influence of Nkurunziza, who has been declared the “supreme guide for patriotism” by the Parliament of Burundi, the Burundian people will be turning to their new government for leadership. In practical terms, this leadership could implement an electrification plan to bring electricity to more Burundian homes and a plan to diversify the economy away from subsistence coffee farming. Voters in the 2020 election in Burundi are seeking an end to forced contributions, insight into governmental spending, a window for economic growth and peace as Burundi moves through the pandemic and into the future.

Annie Iezzi
Photo: Flickr

Burundian UnrestSince 2015, the Republic of Burundi in East Africa has been faced with unrest, due to the current president, Pierre Nkurunziza being elected for a third term. The opposition claimed it was an unconstitutional election – and that Nkurunziza was authoritarian – and began to protest, thus starting the worst civil distress since the civil war that ended in 2005. The Burundian Unrest is brutal, yet virtually unknown to most Americans. Here are 10 facts about the Burundian Unrest:

  1. There has been ethnic tension in Burundi since 1962. In 1890, Ruanda (Rwanda) and Urundi (Burundi) were joined in German East Africa as Ruanda-Urundi. Since then there has been tension between the majority Hutu population with the minority Tutsi population, with Tutsi typically being the dominant ethnic group. Since 1994 (the start of the civil war between Tutsis and Hutus), Burundi has been considered one of Africa’s most difficult conflicts to deal with.
  2. Pierre Nkurunziza was the first president to be chosen in a democratic election since the start of the civil war in 1994.
    Nkurunziza is a former Hutu rebel leader and was elected in 2005 – one of the final steps in a peace process meant to end years of fighting between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-controlled army. He has since been slowly seeing accusations of authoritarianism, with people boycotting the polls in 2010 and in 2015 when he ran for president again, despite the Burundian constitution limiting presidents to two terms.
  3. Burundian authorities have been abducting and killing its citizens. This is happening at an alarming rate; however, their methods have shifted. In 2015, authorities would openly murder civilians and leave their bodies in the streets of Bujumbura (the capital of Burundi), but recently they have been more discreet about it by kidnapping citizens and not telling their families where they went.
  4. In 2016, an average of more than 100 people a day crossed the Tanzanian border seeking refuge from the chaotic situation.
    These new refugees joined the 250,000 refugees from the year before and are spread out throughout Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The refugees find themselves in shelters that are underfunded and overcrowded. Refugees risk a lot running away from Burundi because if they get caught by the militia, they are labeled “traitors” and are either sent back with a warning or, in extreme cases, assaulted and murdered.
  5. The ruling party in Burundi is the National Council of The Defence of Democracy- Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) The CNDD was created in 1994, as a direct result of the assassination of the democratically elected president that was the start of the civil war. The FDD was later created as an armed wing to establish popular resistance.
  6. Imbonerakure is the youth branch of the CNDD-FDD and is causing a lot of destruction. Imbonerakure is accused of beatings and killings and there is a suspected collaboration with the Burundi government. They have also been raping women related to men who are rebelling against the government. In addition, they have been known to go door to door, extorting money from residents, and have been arresting citizens despite having no technical arresting power.
  7. Mass arrests of opposition parties have been conducted. At least 16 members of the opposition party – National Liberation Forces (FNL) – were arrested in March 2016, with many more arrested in the following months.
  8. Despite being accused of human rights violations, Burundi is on the U.N.’s 47 member Human Rights Council. There was a panel of investigators set up by the human rights council last year, and in early September 2017, they said that they would be delivering the council a list of potential human rights violators in Burundi.
  9. Burundian refugees that have made it out of Burundi still face conflict in their new homes In September of this year, 36 refugees were shot and killed in the Congo, after an altercation with Congolese security forces.
  10. The U.N. has been working in Burundi since 2015. On Jan. 1, 2015 the U.N. Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB) began working in the conflicted country. Jamal Benomar, Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Advisor, has been working with the Burundi government on creating a “credible and inclusive political dialogue.” It is a continuation of the U.N. office in Burundi (BNUB) that ended in 2014.

The crisis in Burundi is still rampant, but there are ways that everyday American citizens can help. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been assisting Burundi since 1996 to help victims recover from the war. The IRC is now focusing its efforts on Burundi’s border with Tanzania and around Bujumbura, the capital. They are providing emergency relief, deinstitutionalizing children in orphanages, teaching young people job skills, helping to manage refugee camps, safeguarding the human rights for refugees and more. Donations to them and organizations like them will go a long way for the people in Burundi and will hopefully allow the Burundian Unrest to begin settling.

Téa Franco

Photo: Google